Sunday, October 11, 2009
Right from the opening credits, Zombieland lets it be known that it doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a fun, uncomplicated ride. Instead of a quick montage establishing how the world came to be overrun with zombies, or menacing shots of the undead walking the streets, the film starts with a series of ultra-slow motion shots of people frantically running from hordes of flesh-eating cannibals. One guy desperately tries to carry a kid while being chased by an army of the things. Another is only steps ahead of a naked zombie stripper. In my personal favorite, a guy wearing a tuxedo straight out of Fantasy Island shoots an AK-47 right at the camera as a group of the walking dead converge on him from all angles. Oh yeah, and this all set to “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica.
If that doesn’t make it obvious enough, this is a film that desperately doesn’t want to be taken seriously, and I’m happy to say that it succeeds admirably in this regard (just take a look at the several cut scenes featuring the “zombie kill of the week”). Lots of movies have advertised themselves as being exactly what Zombieland is, only to weigh down the fun of their premise with absurd melodrama, halfhearted social commentary, and insulting attempts to “push the genre further” (see the Dawn of the Dead remake). Thankfully, the filmmakers behind Zombieland, specifically director Ruben Fleischer, know that’s not why anyone goes to see a zombie film when it’s not directed by George A. Romero. With this in mind, they never sell out on the built-in hook of their premise--in short, that zombies are as scary as they are inherently goofy, and that it's damn good fun to watch Woody Harrelson (who's having the time of his life here) take to them wielding a banjo as a weapon. Fill that out with some sharp one-liners, some interesting stylistic choices, a killer soundtrack, the always hot Emma Stone, and one of the most wonderfully ridiculous cameos in recent memory, and you’ve got what everyone wants from this genre-- a solid, unabashed B-movie.
Naturally, this is not to say that there aren’t faults here. Some aspects of the aesthetic Fleischer employs don’t quite work, like the rules for staying alive that the main character Columbus (played by Jesse Eisenberg with that endearing awkwardness that seems to be the trademark of his generation of actors) follows unerringly throughout the film, and which are flashed on screen each time they come into play. It’s a fun idea, but the rules aren’t half as creative as they should be, and by the fifth time the one about always shooting a zombie twice makes an appearance, it’s a bit more than stale. It’s these aspects of the film that get most frustrating, and this is only because Zombieland’s premise is so wide-open (thankfully, the cause behind the zombie apocalypse is left unexplained) that there are infinite avenues the story could have gone down at any particular turn, and not every one of them is guaranteed to satisfy every viewer.
But in saying this, I’ve already started overthinking this movie, which is as much a carnival ride as it is a film (it’s no surprise the main characters are on their way to a theme park). This film is certainly not making any headway in raising the genre back to the artful level of something like Night of the Living Dead, but that’s clearly not something Zombieland even pretends to be interested in. This is a movie that happily eschews all logic and faux-complexity in favor of showing Woody skid a car around a corner while gunning down zombies with an Uzi, and it’s all the better for it.